The vast majority of the germs and/or bacteria that we collect each day is transferred through our hands. As we go about our day we use our hands to type, write, pick up phones, handle computer accessories, open doors, etc. Commonly we are either spreading these illness-causing microbes to commonly touched items, or we are picking them up from other people who have touched the surface prior to us. Now that our hands are loaded with potential viruses and infections, we then use them to scratch an itchy nose, put food into our mouths or shake a friend’s hand. We are all potential spreaders of illness. Luckily there’s a fairly simple solution to this problem: proper hand hygiene practices.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for hand washing illustrate how we can greatly reduce our chances of both contracting illness from common surfaces and of spreading it in the first place. The first step is knowing when to wash your hands. The CDC prescribes that hands should be washed under the following conditions:
- Before, during and after preparing food (especially raw meat, poultry or fish)
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
The next step is to wash your hands properly. It is quite common to see people quickly squirt a little soap in their hands (if they use it at all), rub them together lazily, rinse it off and leave. This is not sufficient for the removal of most germs/bacteria. There are five simple steps to assuring that your hands are clean and healthy:
- Thoroughly wet the hands with clean running water. The temperature of the water does not matter, however most people choose warm water for comfort.
- Apply a quality hand soap, preferably from a sealed system soap dispenser such as PowerFRESH Hand Hygiene to prevent cross contamination. Bring the soap to a full lather paying extra attention the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
*Note – Standard foam hand soap is sufficient for most day-to-day hand washing, since it will remove all bacteria without the need to kill it. Antibacterial soap is only necessary in sensitive healthcare applications or with people suffering from immune system disorders.
- Scrub your hands for a MINIMUM of twenty seconds. A common gauge for this is to sing (in your head or out loud if you’re so inclined) the alphabet song all the way through, or Happy Birthday two times through.
- Thoroughly rinse your hands under clean running water.
- Dry your hands completely using a single-use towel or a hand dryer.
In instances where soap and running water are not available, your next best bet is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. These products will greatly reduce the number of germs on the hands, but will not eliminate all germs nor will it remove some harmful chemicals. Hand sanitizers are also less effective on visibly dirty or greasy hands. If your hands are visibly soiled, your best option is to wash them with soap and water.
By following these simple guidelines and spending a few more seconds in front of the sink you can greatly reduce the chances of getting a virus or infection, or passing one on to a co-worker or family member.